The little I can do

Leaf-cutter ant - Acromyrmex octospinosus

In my job at the Poisons Centre, I recently received a call from a person who was very distraught and sincerely seeking help, but the situation was outside both my area of expertise and also my role so all I could do was to give some cautionary advice and encourage her to contact one of several agencies that may be able to help her. It was the middle of the night so the options were limited, but she did seem a little calmer by the end of the call and thanked me for my help. “What help?” I thought to myself, feeling that I had been next to useless in giving her the sort of help she really needed. Though I suppose sometimes just having a calm voice offer a few more options is better than nothing.

There are so many times I have encountered situations in which I felt powerless to be really useful. Either I lacked the training, skill, tools or resources to be of much help.

But recently I was in the opposite situation – I was the one needing help. Having already sought professional help from experts, who did I then turn to? The person I sought out is someone I have known for a while now, and has one primary attribute that the professionals lacked: he is passionately God-focused.

At that particular time what I needed was to chat with a friend who would consistently keep pointing me to Jesus Christ. We yarned about all sorts of stuff, the overall message I went home with was; God is in control. The help I had already received from other experts was transformed as a friend faithfully gave of what he had.

The world around us has some massive needs – right now 10 million people in East Africa are facing drought and possible starvation. How do we fix that?

The Burma Army continues to enslave, rape and slaughter ethnic peoples in their own nation. Is there even the will to fix that?

How often I see the needs of the world around me, consider the puny contribution I could make towards those needs and end up thinking, “It wouldn’t make any difference anyway.” Even if I gave my entire income and the remaining years of my life to serve the needs of the world it would not make a noticeable difference. But is it my role to make a difference? It is God who is in control. Our job is to love, on a small scale maybe – but if multiplied…

For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
(Galatians 5:13-14 ESV)

Can we truly love our neighbours, and in so doing be pointing people to Christ? In words and deeds acting in love?

As thousands of ants can move huge amounts of leaves despite each individual’s small size, surely the Body of Christ each loving their neighbour can do God’s will on Earth as it is in heaven.

Gifts I have noticed this week:

486) An hour relaxing at the library.
487) A friend who will take time to listen when time is what he has least of.
488) Happy, noisy children waking me up.
489) Psalm 139:12
490) Praying for my kids
491) Good books to read.
492) Bacon!
493) This reminder from John Piper: Beware of presuming on the strength of youth. “Even young men shall stumble and fall” (Isaiah 40:30). [even if I’m not so young any more!].
494) Eagerly looking for dawn when working night shift (2 Samuel 23:4).
495) Reminder to look through my circumstances to see God.
496) That sometimes simply doing my duty is enough.
497) Pen and paper, helping me to think and unload.
498) Eyesight – so fragile, so beautiful.
499) Clock ticking.
500) God’s strength (Isaiah 40:30)

External links related to this topic:

Image of leafcutter ant: iStockPhoto

Netted recently, May 15

Netted recently:
  • Tim Keller discusses why Martyn Lloyd Jones thought it is important to be present when a sermon is preached rather than just listening to it on an ipod or viewing the YouTube video:

Dr. Lloyd-Jones effectively dismantles the idea that watching a video or listening to an audio of a sermon is as good as coming physically into an assembly and listening to a sermon with a body of people. (Lloyd-Jones on the Primacy of Preaching)

I am afraid the only safe rule is to give more than we can spare. In other words, if our expenditure on comforts, luxuries, amusements, etc., is up to the standard common among those with the same income as our own, we are probably giving away too little.

  • Mother’s Day in Burma:

“All my life they have been chasing us. They have done a lot to my family. They killed my husband, my brother, my uncle, my cousin, my brother in law and my father.” “Do you know why the Burma Army come and attack you,” I ask. The answer is so sad: “We don’t have any idea. The Burma Army never speak to us or tell us anything.”

We sit in silence. We both are mothers. We both love our husbands. We both have dreams and fears. We both have a sense of humor and like beauty. We both want a day off to do whatever we want. We both sit in the same room. But our lives are as different as lives can be. I think it is unfair.

Why does God allow this?

Ugandan man in brightly shirt prayingDo you ever find parts of the Bible distasteful, crass, gory, disgusting? I certainly do. One of those parts of the Bible which I always baulk at is Judges 19:22-28 in which a young woman is gang-raped and abused all night so severely that she dies. A number of issues cause my squeamishness over this text, the sheer brutality of the attack is certainly one of them. Yet God decreed that this incident be recorded in His holy book.

Maybe a partial reason why such an horrific rape was retained in scripture is to give us a reference point for comparable incidents occurring in our world today, such as the use of rape as a weapon of war by the Burma Army in Shan State. A recent report by Burma Campaign UK entitled Crisis in Shan State contains reports of exactly these sorts of horrific incidents:

  • On 21st March in Nam Lao village, Nang M, a 30 year-old woman, was gang raped by a large number of soldiers. She died immediately after being gang-raped.
  • On 23rd March Burmese Army troops from Light Infantry Battalion 291 and Infantry Battalion 33 gang-raped Nang B on a road outside her village. She is 19 years old.

Appallingly similar to the blunt reporting in the Bible:

But the men would not listen to him. So the man seized his concubine and made her go out to them. And they knew her and abused her all night until the morning. And as the dawn began to break, they let her go. And as morning appeared, the woman came and fell down at the door of the man’s house where her master was, until it was light. (Judges 19:25-26 ESV)

Men are no safer in Shan State, Burma Army soldiers regularly force villagers to carry supplies, repair roads, build military camps and cultivate crops for them, with no pay and no food supplied. By forcing the men into labour for the army, women are forced to maintain farms, crops and households while the man are away, never certain that their fathers and husbands will return. Even living peaceably in their own villages men are not safe – the slightest provocation of the Burma Army can be fatal:

On 20 December 2010, a patrol of about 15 Burma Army troops from IB64 and 15 Shan ceasefire soldiers came to Maak Laang village and required So-Nan-Di, aged 48, to provide them with food and liquor. So-Nan-Di then killed his own chickens, bought some whiskey and served the soldiers. After eating and drinking to their satisfaction, the soldiers returned to their base in Lai-Kha. However, at one point on their way back, about 3 miles from Maak Laang village, they were ambushed by a group of Shan resistance soldiers. The Burma Army troops returned three days later, arresting So-Nan-Di and Zaai Maad from their houses, taking them back to their base in Lai-Kha township. Even though there was no evidence, they accused the men of helping the Shan resistance soldiers. So-Nan-Di was shot dead somewhere along the way that same day and Zaai Maad was imprisoned at Lai-Kha.  (report from Shan Human Rights Foundation)

There are hundreds of stories like these, a young father is severely beaten because he ran in fear from Burma Army soldiers – their excuse; they thought he must be a spy from the rebel militia. A 15-year-old girl returns to her parent’s house after bathing and is raped by a Burma Army officer who was looting the house. A small boy is burnt to death when the army sets fire to a village. Callous, inhumane slaughter and tyranny occurs every day in Burma.

Callous, inhumane slaughter also occurred in the Bible,

And David would strike the land and would leave neither man nor woman alive, but would take away the sheep, the oxen, the donkeys, the camels, and the garments, and come back to Achish. When Achish asked, “Where have you made a raid today?” David would say, “Against the Negeb of Judah,” or, “Against the Negeb of the Jerahmeelites,” or, “Against the Negeb of the Kenites.” And David would leave neither man nor woman alive to bring news to Gath, thinking, “lest they should tell about us and say, ‘So David has done.’”(1 Samuel 27:9-11 ESV)

I find it hard to reconcile this bloodthirsty David with the man after God’s own heart (1 Samuel 13:14). It seems that while we may like to present ourselves as ‘together’ and upstanding to the world, God refuses to omit the nasty incidents from the story of His redemption. While it remains distasteful and hard to swallow, at least these sordid biblical reports remind us that God knew full well the depths of depravity and sin that needed to be atoned for in Christ – and the sacrifice of Jesus Christ was fully sufficient.

It is OK to ask, “why does God allow this?”

Just make sure you are ready for His truthful answer – an answer that will be big enough to embrace wiping out entire nations at His command, permitting a sickening myriad of atrocious human acts, even to the slaughter of the only innocent One to ever live on earth. It is the very nature of God to not shy away from the truth, it is the very nature of my own flesh to hide from the light. Bring these together and it would seem most likely the problem with the texts I have quoted in this post is my inability to face truth rather than God being less than good.

What can we do?
  • I am praying for humility to accept God’s goodness, my fear of the light and His grace in Christ.
  • Pray for God to intervene and change the situation in Burma. It is not for us to stipulate how, but we are called to plead the case of the oppressed and powerless.
  • Ask God to send the light of Christ into this region of sadness. The Shan people have almost no Christian witness in their midst, the few Christians there live in fear so their light is blinkered. Would you be any bolder? May God give them His strength in their weakness.

Image of man praying by Susan Wardell, used with permission.

15-year-old Christian girl still missing

Reporting by Simba Tian, Compass Direct News

NAIROBI, Kenya, February 22 – A Christian widow in north Sudan is agonizing over the kidnapping of her daughter eight months ago by suspected Islamic extremists in Khartoum.

“Since my daughter was kidnapped, I have been living in a state of fear and terror,” said Ikhlas Anglo, 35, a mother of two daughters.

She said her 15-year-old daughter, Hiba Abdelfadil Anglo, went missing while returning from the Ministry of Education in Khartoum on June 27, 2010. Hiba, a member of Sudan Presbyterian Evangelical Church in Khartoum, had gone to the education ministry office to obtain her transcripts for entry to secondary school.

Two days later, the family received threatening telephone calls and SMS messages from the kidnappers telling them to pay 1,500 Sudanese pounds (US$560) in order to secure her return.

“Don’t you want to have this slave back?” one of the kidnappers told Anglo from an unknown location by cell phone, she said.

Anglo and others said they believe the kidnappers are Muslim extremists who have targeted them because they are Christians, and that police are aiding the criminals. She said that when she went to a police station to open a case, police bluntly told her she must first leave Christianity for Islam.

“You must convert to Islam if you want your daughter back,” officer Fakhr El-Dean Mustafa of the Family and Child Protection Unit told Anglo, she said. Recently transferred to another station, Mustafa was not immediately available for comment.

A relative of the girl said police are fully involved in the crime, as officers had traced the phone number of the kidnappers but were reluctant to admit that to the girl’s family.

‘‘The police have a direct link with the kidnappers,’’ the relative said.

Adding to the anguish of the kidnapped girl’s family was Anglo’s dismissal from her job when she took time off to search for Hiba. Anglo said her supervisor at Asia Health Center, where she had worked for many years as a cleaner, had told her to report back to work after recovering her daughter, but after a month she was surprised to learn that she had been fired as of July 1, 2010.

“They dismissed me because I was looking for my daughter, although they have given me permission,” she said.

Christians in north Sudan are anticipating increased persecution due to a referendum that gave the right of self-determination to the people of south Sudan, the majority of whom are Christians.    On Jan. 9, south Sudan voted for secession in order to establish a zone free of sharia (Islamic law). Northern Christians fear further dangers after July 9, when south Sudan will officially become an independent nation.

President Omar al-Bashir, wanted by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity in Darfur, has stated that the rights of southern citizens remaining in the north after secession will be respected. But Christians’ fears grew after he said in December that an altered constitution would be based on sharia and that Islam would be the official religion.

Nearly four months ago, police allegedly helped a Muslim businessman to seize property belonging to the Sudan Presbyterian Evangelical Church in Khartoum (See Police in Sudan Aid Muslim’s Effort to Take Over Church Plot, Oct. 25, 2010).

By Simba Tian, Compass Direct News

Image of Hiba Abdelfadil Anglo: Compass Direct News

Turn… and pray

What should I do when someone attacks my faith? Obviously striking back is not an option (Luke 6:29), and Jesus did warn that the world would not think highly of Christians (John 15:18-20), even to the point of being turned upon by one’s own family (Matthew 10:34-38). That’s all good in theory, but in real life being slapped in the face is painful and intentionally placing myself as the target for a second shot is not what I want to do at all. What I want to do is to either hit back or run away (or hit back and then run!).  What I actually ended up doing was nothing much because I was too angry to trust myself to say anything so I did end up walking away from the ‘conversation’.

Certainly there have been times when people have mocked my faith and I have stoically accepted the mockery without flinching. But in those cases the person mocking me was not close to me or in any way a significant character in my life, so frankly I was not particularly concerned what they might think about what I believe. I’m not so stoic, however, when a person whose opinion can deeply affect me tells me that the foundation upon which I have built my life is worthless. My mind is saying, “that’s not true, don’t take it to heart”. My heart, on the other hand, is feeling completely gutted that this person could think in this way. Against even my own better judgment I find myself wondering if perhaps they are right? Maybe I truly am a fool for believing? (1 Corinthians 15:19).

In time I cool off a little, I find a space in which to open the Bible and renew my mind. The initial (immature) reaction of never wanting to see that person again subsides and grace wriggles in through cracks in my angry sullenness. It still hurts knowing that those few words reveal a heart attitude fundamentally opposed to the core of who I am – how do you relate to someone you should respect and honour when they disdain all that you value? I don’t know. It will take grace in very large measures, something I don’t have within myself.

What I do know is that I should pay greater attention to what I read in the Bible: while it was easy to recall the verse about turning the other cheek, it is the six words immediately preceding  Luke 6:29 that I most need: “pray for those who abuse you.” My not knowing how to respond to the situation is fine, my not having grace sufficient to the task is also fine, all I need is to pray. God is wisdom and grace, He has all I need and all I need to have is the humility of a child to ask and receive His equipping for the response He demands of me.

“But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either.”
(Luke 6:27-29 ESV)